Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Now Available: Why Some Places That Are Alike Aren't Alike

In the summer of 1968, in the middle of the American involvement in the Vietnam wars, Mary Soderstrom and her husband  loaded up their VW Beetle and immigrated to Canada so he could accept a job in Montreal.  The contrast between their new home and their old led to a long-running reflection on what makes the countries different, and by extension, what makes States and states who have so much in common that they seem like unidentical twins, continue as separate entities.
            In  Frenemies Nations: Love and Hate between Neighbo(u)ring States,  Soderstrom uses decades of study, travel and observation to investigate this conundrum, beginning with the reasons why there were two Vietnams way back then.  The other examples she found are many and varied:
            * New Hampshire--home of "Live free or die" populism--and Vermont--home of Bernie Sanders and his peculiarly American brand of socialism;
            *Two Canadian provinces, red neck Alberta and Saskatchewan, the cradle of Canada's universal health care system;
            *Tunisia and Algeria;
            * Burundi and Rwanda.      
            *Haiti and the Dominican Republic
            *The ancient island realms of Scotland and Ireland 
            *The Indian states of  Kerala and  Tamil Nadu 
            * Spanish-speaking and Portuguese-speaking South America 
            The book ends with consideration of the United States of America and Canada as well as speculation about what brings change to  societies. These include geographic variations, no matter how minimal; colonial history that sometimes depends on the toss of dice half a world away; exposure to the wider world; the traditional place awarded women; the shelter that a language can give; how the people are educated; and migration, both voluntary and involuntary.  All of these have implications for the way polities develop.  They also carry lessons for those who'd like to change the future.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Road through Time Now Available

Great reviews for Road through Time in Quill and Quire, Publishers' Weekly, The Library Journal and, most recently, The Montreal Review of Books

Katia Grubisic starts her review interview in the MRB: "Mary Soderstrom might just be my new favourite writer. She’s been writing for years, and we’ve been reading her for years, but meeting her reveals an energy that is contagious, and a humility that should be. Soderstrom in person is as unassuming, open, and delightful as she is erudite and elegant on the page.... "

The book is available through your favourite independent book store, and on-line from McNally-Robinson, Chapters-Indigo, Amazon.ca and Amazon.com.

What the book is  about:

Ever since humans stood up and walked they have left tracks across the landscape. From the footprints that a trio of pre-humans left in soft volcanic ash 3.6 million years ago in East Africa to a newly completed inter-oceanic highway in South America, we change things wherever we travel. These marks--be they dirt packed down by thousands of passing feet, or roads engineered to carry messengers, armies, goods and people-- frequently outlast the societies that built them. Even though we linger only a flicker of time in the long history of this planet, the effects of our travel long outlive us.

We are engineered to think in short stretches of time, however, so the long run almost always escapes us. How to reconcile our own sprints through time with the marathon we ought to consider? That is the double subject of Road through Time.

To explore this, a map of where such an adventure might take us is necessary:

In Bottleneck on the Road from Eden, this book will take a look at the way our ancestors traveled on foot for unbelievably long distances. Beginning with the tricky crossing from Africa to the Eurasian continent, we'll discover how humans were fruitful and multiplied, peopling the rests of the earth in perhaps 10 or 12 thousand years.

Humans' impact on the landscape was minimal for eons, until they mastered fire, tamed beasts of burden, began to grow crops and faced the forest that bordered the plains where they had prospered. Into the Trees tells this story.

Then as population centres grew and trade increased, the paths people took wore more deeply into the land. Because trade goods had to be transported by animals or humans, only the very precious were worth the effort. The Things They Carried tells the story of these trade routes, beginning with the Obsidian Roads and the Lapis Lazuli road in Asia.

With increasing population and excess production, more complicated social organization meant greater intergroup conflict. Warriors' Roads explores the routes built by emperors from Persia to the Andes, vestiges of which we can see today, and along whose tracks many of us still travel.

Although this is a book about roads, travel by water must not be ignored. It goes back as a far as those first steps out of Africa, but it came into its own as trade demand increased. Without help from machines, it is much easier to move goods and people on water than it is over land. Across the Water tells how sea and river trade routes developed, and how canals were built where rivers didn't run, until the great population crescendo that saw millions of people take to ships to exploit and settle new found lands.

This "New World" wasn't uninhabited, despite what explorers from Europe thought. Mystery Roads follows the paths taken by adventurers out of Asia into the Western Hemisphere. This is a story that new scientific techniques are rewriting.

The Revenge of the Road chronicles the massive road building of the 19th and 20th century, including the growth of cities, and dependence on first railroad and then internal combustion vehicles.

In Speeding we collide with the disaster wrought by our roads and the vehicles that run on them. Our sprawling cities designed--or redesigned-- for the automobile are a big part of the problem. Two ways to deal with that are explored in visits to Curítiba and Brasília in Brazil.

The book ends with On the Road II, a second trip by bus, this one across the Andes from Cusco, Peru, to Rio Branco, Brazil on the new Interoceanic Highway. From footpaths to roads opening wilderness, the trip gives a front row seat on massive changes taking place throughout the world. In the distance we'll see the end of our collective travel on this fragile planet--or, conversely, a future that will allow us to continue moving onward.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Mary Soderstrom's latest novel is  River Music , published in 2015 by Cormorant Books.  She  is a Montreal-based writer of fiction and non-fiction with five works of non-fiction, four short story collections, four other novels and  one children’s book to her credit. In addition over the years she has done a wide variety of reporting on science, urbanism, politics and writing.  She leads book discussion groups in several Montreal area libraries and has a  blog on books and writing Not So Solitary a Pleasure: A Blog about Books.

Research for her next non-fiction book  Road through Time: The Story of Humanity on the Move included travel to South America in November 2013.  She visited Peru to see the Inka Road, travel the new Estrada do Pacifico that connects the Atlantic and Pacific through Brazil and Peru, and visit Curitiba and Brasília, cities which represent two ways to organize urban life and urban roads.

In early November 2013, Oberon Press brought out a new  short story collection  Desire Lines: Stories of Love and Geography.  It marked a return to a form that she loves, but in which she had not worked for a decade.  The project was  supported by a generous grant from the Conseil des arts et lettres du Québec.  "This collection is not to be missed." Starred review by Joy Parks in Quill and Quire.

Her most recent non-fiction  book  is:

Making Waves: The Continuing Portuguese Adventure. (Véhicule Press, 2010, ISBN: 978-1-55065-292-5) How one small nation influenced the world.

The world is the way it is today because 600 years ago Portugal, a small nation on the edge of Europe, sent its sailors off in search of spices, souls and slaves. In Making Waves: The Portuguese Adventure Mary Soderstrom takes us to places touched by the Portuguese— from India to Brazil, from Newfoundland to San Diego—telling a tale of adventure and triumph, occasionally mixed with a measure of sadness. Portugal’s influence resonates in the 21st century far beyond the 11 million people who speak Portuguese in the mother country, or the other 220 million who speak the language around the world.

The Portuguese—taught the rest of Europe, including Christopher Columbus, how to ride the winds of the high seas; reached the riches of the East decades before their rivals the Spanish; spread their language and culture around the world by making love, not war; traded in slaves but in 1761 were the first Europeans to outlaw slavery at home; pioneered city planning—the rebuilding of Lisbon after the Great Earthquake of 1755 was a visionary rethinking of a city not equaled until Haussmann redesigned Paris a century later; invented standardized building methods using pre-cut wood 75 years before the first balloon frame building in Chicago; and showed how to throw out a dictatorship peacefully and change society profoundly in the Carnation Revolution of 1974.

Also available:

The Walkable City: From Haussmann's Boulevards to Jane Jacobs' Streets and Beyond, Véhicule Press, 2008
ISBN 978-1-55065-243-7

"Mary Soderstrom's The Walkable City addresses one of the most important environmental, economic, social, public health and foreign policy issues of our day that is also the most unexpected and simplest; building walkable urban places. Using an approach I personally enjoy, taking a long historical perspective from pre-history through the various ages of city building, Ms. Soderstrom demonstrates that we as a civilization know how to build walkable cities. We just have to speed up our efforts."  Christopher Leinberger, The Brookings Institution

Mary's novel The Violets of Usambara was published in spring 2008 by Cormorant Books

ISBN 978-1-55065-243-7

“Mary Soderstrom's The Violets of Usambara is a moving novel that explores the possibility of redemption in a morally complex world. Cutting between Canada and tension-filled Burundi, it has echoes of Graham Greene both in setting and tone, but it is above all Soderstrom's intelligent investigation of power and its absence and love over a lifetime of a marriage.”Antanas Sileika

Click here for more about her African trip taken to research this novel.



Green City: People, Nature and Urban Places
How people have brought nature into cities throughout history, told through visits to 11 cities, from Babylon to São Paulo. One of The Globe and Mail's Best Books of 2007.
Véhicule Press. ISBN 1-55065-207-9

Recreating Eden: A Natural History of Botanical Gardens. The founders of the first botanical gardens in the sixteenth century attempted to create a Garden of Eden that contained a complete collection of all things created by God. Although in other cultures it has different names, humans have yearned for this mythic place of pece and joy from which they were expelled. This book explores how these gardens have evolved over the last 400 years by guiding us through nine of the world's most interesting ones. Véhicule Press 2001 ISBN1-550065-151-X

"The Ecology of Botanical Gardens" in The Encylopedia of Ecology, Elsevier, 2008

Other fiction:

After Surfing Ocean Beach, a novel set in San Diego, published by Dundurn Press under its Simon and Pierre imprint. Read about After Surfing Ocean Beach and Mary Soderstrom in the cover feature of the Montreal Review of Books´ Spring 2004 issue

The Truth Is A collection of 14 short stories set in Montreal and told from the point of view of women, Oberon Press, November 2001"when it comes to craft, and particularly structure, these are stories that any writer would benefit from studying. Because the truth is, there just aren't enough stories out there that are this good.

The Words on the Wall; Robert Nelson and the Rebellion of 1837 A non- traditional biography of an English leader in the Rebellion in Lower Canada. November 1998. Oberon Press . French version: Robert Nelson: le médecin rebelle. February 1999 Éditions l´Hexagone Translated by Michel Saint-Germain.

Finding the Enemy 1997, Oberon Press. A collection of short stories extending in time from the day the first Atomic Bomb was tested until the War in the Persian Gulf, and taking place in Los Alamos, Montreal, Bucharest and San Diego. Finalist for the 1997 QSPELL Hugh McLennan Prize for fiction. French version, L´Autre ennemi , November 2000 from Éditions l´Hexagone. Translated by Michel Saint-Germain/ Finalist for the 2002 Quebec Writers´ Federation prize for Fiction.

Endangered Species It's 1990, there's a by-election and a failed attempt at Canadian unity, and Claire Tremblay is faced with her past. Oberon Press 1995

Maybe Tomorrow I´ll Have a Good Time, Human Sciences Press, 1981, New York. A picture story about a little girl starting day care.

The Descent of Andrew McPherson, McGraw Hill-Ryerson Press, l976, Toronto) Family saga novel set in Montreal and Idaho. Short listed for the Books in Canada First Novel prize

French translations:

Short Fiction:

Short stories in such magazines as Maisonneuve, OUI, Chatelaine, Fiddlehead, Exile, Grain, and Galaxy.

Member of juries for the Canada Council for the Arts (most recently in 2016 for the Governor General's Prize for Non-Fiction,) the Conseil des arts et lettres du Québec, and other literary competitions.

Five times a semi-finalist in the CBC Annual Literary Competition:
1988, 1989 and 1998 (short story), and 1990 and 1991 (personal essay).
Frequent contributor and book reviewer for Quill and Quire, Top Five, Canada Business Press awards 2002, for "The Grant Game," published in Quill.

Contributor in the past to Hour Magazine, Books in Canada, Canadian Author, Plant and Garden, and The McGill News.

Freelance journalism over a number of years in the and New York Times, Omni, Montreal Star, The Gazette, The Globe and Mail, Montreal Scene, and the San Francisco Chronicle.
Other Literary Activities:

Quebec Writers' Federation Community Award 2008

Twice Boursière, of grants from the Conseil des arts et lettres du Québec.  The first in 2001 to support work on a novel  called The Violets of Usambara,  and again in 2011 to support work on the short story collection, Desire Lines.

Featured participant, Festival littéraire international de Montréal, Blue Metropolis, many times

Appearances at Book Expo Canada,; the Salon du livre de l´Outouais,; Salon du livre de Québec; Salon du livre de Montréal, and Reading as part of the Harbourfront Reading Series, Toronto.

Book discussion series leader, Atwater, Kirkland, Pierrefonds and Dollard des Ormeaux libraries and la Bibliothèque Robert-Bourassa, Montreal,
Available for readings and illustrated lectures on all topics covered by her books.
Personal Information

Born November 8, 1942 in Walla Walla, Washington, USA. Childhood there and in San Diego. Resident of Montreal since September, 1968, Dual citizen, U.S and Canada

Bilingual, English-French

Master of Journalism, University of California at Berkeley, 1969; Bachelor of Arts, Major in English Literature, University of California at Berkeley, 1964

Check out Mary Soderstrom's Blog, Recreating Eden

Mary on the Writing Life